Create, Share, Play. That was the mantra for ModNation Racers on the PS3. With the promise of user created tracks, karts, and racers that were shareable amongst the world, Sony’s kart racer had a lot of promise, and overall it was a pretty good game that I kind of enjoyed, but I did not get into as much as I thought I would. When the PS Vita’s launch games were announced, ModNation Racers was a title that would be on store shelves at the same time in the form of ModNation Racers: Road Trip. This PS Vita version would not only bring Sony’s kart racer to the new handheld console, but it would make use of some of the Vita’s specific features. I got a chance to take more then a few laps with this game and now I want to pass on my thoughts to you.
One of the main features of the ModNation series is that it allows you to create, and this portable game is no different. Just like it’s big console brother, ModNation Racers: Road Trip allows you to create racers, karts, and tracks. Although the creation suite for most items is not as intuitive as the PS3 version, the ability to create karts, racers and tracks can be pretty easy. As you race through the career mode you open up more items for you to use for your creations, and the more you play the more creative you can be with all the options that become available to you. Creating tracks is particularly interesting, given that the Vita’s touchscreen is used to draw your track on the screen. This is far more intuitive then having to lay down track pieces or use a controller to guide the track creator. Of course just like the PS3 version you can decorate the tracks with interesting scenery such as buildings, forests, lakes, and pretty much anything else that you would imagine, just as long as you have it in your library of stuff to use. You also have the option for the game to “auto-populate” the surroundings of your tracks.
As I made my way through the various creation processes, I noticed that the touchscreen controls were somewhat finicky, so much so that I had a hell of a time placing items on my created tracks or I had difficulty getting through various menus. I wondered if this was just me, so I did some research on various community forums and to my surprise I wasn’t the only one having difficulty. Sure, it was manageable with some patience, but lots of other people were complaining how difficult the touchscreen could be in their creative process. Do I know a better way to do this? Not really, as I am not a game designer or programmer, but given my experience with the touchscreen I thought I should note the issue here.
Of course there is more to ModNation Racers: Road Trip then creating, as this is a kart racer after all. The main focus in the game is the single player mode, actually, this is really the only focus as there is no online multiplayer play (more on this later). The career mode is a series of races that progressively get tougher as you race through approximately 30 tracks. As with any kart racer, there are various weapon items on the track of you to collect and use. They are colour coded too and range from missiles, lighting, or fire type attacks to name a few. You have the ability to power these up by collecting more of the same coloured item three times for maximum weapon power. It was pretty neat to see a flaming phoenix bird fly away and attack all other racers on the track.
As you race you’ll find various speed boosts to give you that extra “zoom”. You also have a nitro boost that you can fill by drifting, bumping other drivers, and pulling of some sweet jumps. In terms of the latter, once you are launched into the air you can use the right analog stick to twist and turn while mid-air, the more successful tricks you pull off, the more your meter is filled up.
The tracks themselves are fairly well designed. You will find some creatively done ones in various settings such as deserts, cities, tropical islands, and snowy wonderlands to name a few. Each track has lots of twists and turns, and if you keep a sharp eye on your surroundings you will find a shortcut or two on each one as well. As you progress through the career mode the tracks get more intricately designed and start to challenge your racing prowess. It does start to get pretty crazy later on, so much so that being successful on some of the latter tracks becomes more about luck then skill, given that there are some really crazy, and somewhat unfair, obstacles such as rotating platforms, hidden drops, rolling barrels, and even giant jackhammers. These obstacles can become quite a hindrance that you may want to throw your Vita at times. Don’t get me wrong, it is doable, but you’ll rely more on chance then your own skill to get you through some of the later tracks.
I also have to note that I found that the wait times for each race to load up were somewhat longer then I had thought they would be. As with my experience with Wipeout 2048, I can’t explain these somewhat longer load times given the storage medium of the Vita. It is a memory card based medium and other games on other machines don’t take as long (e.g. 3DS racing games). I hope that this does not become a regular affair, and although it doesn’t really hamper the gameplay experience as a whole, it does become an annoyance during an extended gameplay sessions.
As I mentioned earlier on, ModNation Racers: Road Trip is mainly a single player affair, this is due to the fact that there is no ability to play online against other racers. For some strange reason online play was left out of this game, which is a HUGE omission in my opinion. There is the ability to race other players ghosts, which reflect their time on a specific track, but to tell you the truth this is quite boring, and it is does not even come close to the feeling of racing other people online. There is the ability to play against other players locally, using the Ad-Hoc feature of the PS Vita, but to do this you have to get up to three others in the same room as you, and you all have to have a copy of the game. This is somewhat unrealistic. For the life of me I don’t understand why they left online play out and it does hurt the game overall.
If you noticed the “features” section above, I note that the game supports cross-platform play. This allows you to download user created items that have been made by users on the PS3 version, as well as the Vita version. It does not mean you will be playing against other gamers on the PS3 version like you can in Wipeout 2048. Sorry if I got your hopes up.
Visually, ModNation Racers: Road Trip is not a bad game, but it is not a great one either. Everything from the karts and characters to each track you race on is pretty well designed. Of course you are the author of your own creations too, so you have the ability to make some pretty good-looking stuff as well. There is ample use of special effects throughout given the weapons you have access to, from great looking explosions to highly charged lightning, the Vita manages to show off some of its graphical might here. Where you will find some issues is that the game does not move at that speedy of a clip, and you’ll hit some nasty areas of slowdown. Yep, the game’s framerate suffers now and then, as you will definitely notice some stuttering as you play. This caught me off guard somewhat, and it took away some of my enjoyment given that I had just recently played Wipeout 2048 with no such issues and I cannot for the life of me understand why this game has this problem.
The best way to describe the sound found in ModNation Racers: Road Trip is adequate. The music is very upbeat and it manages to meld in to the whole experience when you are in a race. As for the rest of the game, the sound effects were very “kart-like” with the bumps of vehicles, karts drifting, and motors revving all sounding pretty good. Weapons effects were decent too, from the sound of your missiles hitting their mark to the distinct sound of your lighting bolts zapping everything in sight, all these managed to convey the on screen action to a tee.
At the end of the day ModNation Racers: Road Trip is a game that I feel is just an above average launch title. The visuals are good, the sound gets the job done, but the overall gameplay seems to suffer more than I had anticipated it would. The difficulty levels ramps up to a level that is very frustrating, the lack of any online play is criminal in this day and age, and you’ll get somewhat tired of playing the game by yourself after some extended time. I had expected more from this first party title, and although it is not that bad of a game, I have to admit it could have been so much more.